A multi-disciplinary designer’s journey in field recording, sound design, sound effects, and music.

Playing a Ruined Pickup Truck

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, music, sound design
This sweet ride sounded better than it looks.

This sweet ride sounded better than it looks.

I live near miles and miles of public open space trails, and there’s a ruined hulk of a blue pickup truck a couple of miles from my house. I see it whenever I hike, run, or bike by. It’s been there for years; someone drove it up incredibly steep fire roads and left it.

Some time ago I dragged a field recorder and a windscreen-protected shotgun microphone up those hills and spent an hour milking the rusting chassis for sound. As you can tell by the picture, it doesn’t look like there was much left, but I did get some pretty cool sounds out of it. Like the cigarette machine percussion loop from an earlier post, I’ve assembled the raw sounds into a drum kit. Here’s a quick sample for your  funky, semi-industrial percussion pleasure. No processing other than pitching 2 samples down a bit in the sampler and some compression and EQ in the final mix; it’s rendered as a usable loop, hence the sudden start and stop.

Ruined Pickup Percussion Loop by noisejockey
[Røde NTG-2 mic into Sound Devices 702 recorder, played in Logic Pro]

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Paddleboat

Posted: August 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
I'm pretty sure this paddleboat was not intended for wilderness exploration.

I'm pretty sure this paddleboat was not intended for wilderness exploration.

Before embarking on mountainous backpacking trips, I like to acclimate to the altitude for a day with some light activity. On a recent, trip, my girlfriend and I wanted to do some lake kayaking. Sadly, the sole outfitter in the region didn’t bring their kayaks that season…when offered a paddleboat instead, we shrugged, thought it was incredibly silly, and said, “Sure!”

The next thing we knew, we were out for four hours in this damn thing. We paddled halfway across an alpine lake, and fought 10-knot wind on the return trip in a craft with the hydrodynamics of a brick. The only way we survived was to sustain ourselves by playing Ghost and Twenty Questions like we were eight years old. From those plastic bucket seats, my ass was complaining for days afterwards.

It was a silly, weird, and fun…and oddly mechanical-sounding. There was this constant thrumming that sounded really regular and sustained for a muscle-powered vehicle. Early in the day there was no wind or chop, so I managed to get several minutes’ worth of clean recordings from this thing. It could easily be processed just a little and recontextualized as a mechanical texture for some device or ambience.

I almost didn’t bring my Zoom H2 on this trip, but I’m sure glad I did. I’ll have more examples from this trip in future posts. (Technical note: Dropping six rechargeable batteries at once into a cold mountain stream does not improve battery life.)

Oh, and photos from my trip can be viewed online if you’d like.

Paddleboat by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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Razordome: Two razors enter, one sound leaves

Posted: August 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
These razors were locked in a battle to the death for the sake of sound!

These razors were locked in a battle to the death for the sake of sound!

I think it was Ben Burtt who described coming up with a sound effect by putting an electric razor in a trashcan and letting it vibrate while recording it…sadly, I’ve forgotten where I saw or read this… (if you do, note it in the comments!)

This naturally made me wonder what would happen if you put multiple electric razors in a resonant space like a trash can. I have both a small beard trimmer and a larger hair razor, so I knew they’d create two very distinct sets of harmonics.

What else is there to say, really? I put those two razors in a trash can, turned them both on, and then let the ol’ 702 rip with a large condenser mic. I tried it with the trash can lid open and closed. It was when I placed both of them on the lid of the metal trash can that the magic started to happen. The trash can acted as a resonator, like the body of a guitar.

Here’s the bizarrely awesome moment (unprocessed) when they started harmonizing and turning into a rich, thick chorus of motorized drone-y goodness!

Two Razors in a Trash Can by noisejockey
[Røde NT1a mic into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Whining Flashguns

Posted: August 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, gear, sound design
"Flash directly into the microphone, please."

"Flash directly into the microphone, please."

As an avid photographer and aficionado of the Strobist school of lighting, I’ve got a mixture of modern, high-tech flashguns and some older ones I’ve picked up for cheap on Craigslist. Their age discrepancies don’t have any impact on how well they work…but my aging flash units sure sound strange.

After taking a shot with any flash, you hear almost always hear the flashgun’s capacitors recharging for the next shot. But my Nikon SB-26 (about 15 years old now) makes this warbling, incredibly”digital” sound. They sound like a 2400 baud modem that’s half asleep and dreaming, or a sweeping sample-start effect heard in glitch-centric music. The sound is incredibly soft and high-pitched, so only my large condenser mic has the sufficiently low noise floor to capture the sound without a lot of hiss.

Possibly useful for other recharging or power-up effects, some grimy and gritty digital process, or as part of a data-transmission sound effect..?

Whine of an aging Nikon SB26 Speedlight by noisejockey
[Røde NT1a mic into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Metal Manipulations & Rusty Resonance

Posted: August 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design
Crusty things make tastier sounds!

Crusty things make tastier sounds!

The sound of metal resonating, scraping, straining…doggone it, I just cannot get enough of this stuff.

Doing yardwork one weekend, I noticed my shovel made a great sound as I was scraping soil out of our wheelbarrow. So, naturally, I dragged my wheelbarrow inside our shed, put a large-condenser microphone over it, grabbed the shovel, and pushed its flat blade around the wheelbarrow in various shapes, with and without dirt, for about 20 minutes.

To me, the sounds were evocative of ancient portals, rusted ship doors opening and closing, or the hull of a ship groaning under pressure. What does it make you think of?

Highlights from this session are below!

Resonant Metal: Shovel scraping inside of wheelbarrow by noisejockey
[Røde NT1a mic into Fostex FR2-LE recorder]

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Update from Noise Jockey World HQ

Posted: August 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: news

Thanks to all the people sending kudos, advice, and good vibes to the World Headquarters here at 101 Lucious Sound Circle. Our gleaming tower of aural awesomeness wouldn’t be here without you. The Management wanted to throw two quick updates out there for Ye Olde Readershippe.

soundcloudIconFirst, Noise Jockey is experimenting with Sound Cloud for audio hosting and playback. Their inline audio player is sweet: you’re actually able to see the waveform, and as readers, you can make comments at any point in time on an audio clip. Holler back if this switch creates any problems!

bhLogoSecondly, Noise Jockey is officially both an Amazon and a B&H Pro Audio affiliate. I’ve had years of trouble-free, well-supported purchases from both companies, especially the awesome folks at B&H. This means that you can help support Noise Jockey by purchasing any book, audio gear, or other item that is directly hyperlinked from any post on this site.

Finally, see District 9. Just do it.

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The Sound Design of the Microsoft Local Impact Map

Posted: August 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: interactive audio, sound design

Microsoft hired Stimulant to help convey the breadth and depth of their corporate social responsibility efforts; we designed an interactive online map that was cool, but we followed that up with a version for Microsoft Surface. I led the interaction design effort for both projects. This Local Impact Map, as it was called, was intended to show the positive human and economic impacts of Microsft’s global citizenship efforts.

When we created the Surface version, the interface’s lack of sound became glaringly apparent. As with any project, even for an outspoken advocate of sound like myself, audio often comes last when things get super busy. Surface is a highly sonified platform, though, with outstanding sound design. “A silent Surface app is a dead Surface app,” says fellow Surface developer Infusion. Too true – in fact, our first Surface application was a music sequencer. So, I set about trying to think about what sonic palette would be appropriate.

That was the wrong thing to do, actually. I stared, thought, listened, sketched. No single set of sounds came to mind.

Instead, I finally had a conceptual breakthrough: Rather than figure out how the application should sound, I decided to focus instead on how those sounds would be made. Given the message and brand, I decided that all the sounds had to originate with simple objects and instruments that are manipulated by human hands. This seemed to get closer to the organic and directly-human heart of the project’s message.

I arrived at an odd set of objects that human hands could make cool sounds with. I whittled these down to only two objects: a kalimba and a one liter water bottle. The kalimba, of course, was played somewhat normally, but the one liter water bottle was tied to a string and swung by a microphone dozens of times, clapped, crunched, and blown upon. From all of these samples came a fairly small and concentrated set of sounds for positive feedback, errors, and transitions. I altered the volume envelopes on most of these sounds to make them either more pronounced or less percussive, and then applied some equalization and compression to make them all fit together, especially when played together…this is a multi-user application, after all.

Since the video above shows the map being used but doesn’t feature the interface’s audio, here’s a compilation of the actual sounds for your listening pleasure.

Sound Design of the Microsoft Local Impact Map for Surface by noisejockey
[Røde NT1a mic into Sound Devices 702 recorder, Soundtrack Pro and Peak Pro for post-processing]

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Thrift Store Sounds: Shoe Stretcher

Posted: August 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Shoe stretchers are vocal little artifacts.

Shoe stretchers are vocal little artifacts.

I’m always looking for weird things that make noise. Some artists dig in crates for rare vinyl, but I dig for fresh sounds at the thrift store.

If I have one primary skill in life, it’s not being afraid to look or act like an idiot in public. This pays off big time as I go into a thrift store, start handling the merchandise, putting it up to my ear, and then handling an item like I intend to break it. Rinse, repeat. I must be a bundle of fun to watch.

Today’s Thrift Store Sound – the first in an occasional series! – come from the humble shoe stretcher. At the local Thrift Town in San Francisco’s Mission District, there’s a whole box full of them. As soon as I handled one, I looked at its components and realized the possibilities: Multiple springs under tension, a metal joint/ratchet, and several wooden parts, all put together loosely. This curio had a whole language it could speak, if only someone would record it…


[OktavaMod MK012 mic with cardioid capsule into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Pew! Pew! Pew!

Posted: August 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: sound design, synthesis
Have blaster, will travel.

Have blaster, will travel.

All my posts to date have featured what’s newest to me: sound gathering in the field and only slight manipulations to said sounds. But synthesis is a longtime love of mine. In my studio, hundreds of small snippets of synthesized sounds exist scattered across terabytes of hard disk space. I usually have no clue what the source material was, or how I created them.

Luckily, I (re)discovered several unusually well-documented synthesized sounds for this post: a collection of samples that were oriented towards making impactful, short sci fi sounds, but created using virtual synthesizers in software rather than real recordings. These sounds all wound up evoking lasers, blasters, and other sci-fi energy weapons, or discrete layer elements for the same.

Ben Burtt defined this sound for generations with his struck-guy-wire laser blasts in Star Wars, and I (like most) tend to agree that these real sound sources make a big difference in the complexity and character of the final sound. But synthesizing these sounds from scratch is a fun exercise, as well: deconstructing what works about that classic sound (amplitudes of high and low frequencies offset in time), figuring out how to execute it, and then modifying the sound for different emotional effects.

(I’ve found other real-world objects that also make Burtt-style blaster sounds, which will be featured in an upcoming post!)


[EFM1 and ES2 virtual synths, Apple Logic Pro 8]

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